Traditionally, women only have a couple of roles to play in action movies. If you want to be fair, I suppose men only have a couple of roles to play in action movies too, since the genre seems only so open to nuanced, complex characters. But based mostly on personal experience, the ass-kicking female characters fall into a scant few stereotypes: there’s the butch “plays with the boys” type role, the glam lipstick assassin, and finally the most enduring and perhaps most respected of the stereotypes: the protective mother. You know the type: think Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (“Newt! NEWWWWT!”) or Jodie Foster in Panic Room.
Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor in the first two Terminator movies ranks as one of the most visible examples of the role. And maybe it’s just my fetish for all things to do with nuclear armageddon, but she’s always been one of my favourite characters as well. How can you not relate to a woman who’s thrown into a mental asylum because she says her son will be humanity’s last hope in a post-nuclear war against a malevolent artificial intelligence and its army of killer robots? We’ve all been there. Sort of. Connor is arguably one of the more complex characters we’ve seen in an action flick, even if her motives are fairly simple. As all good heroes are, she’s essentially plucked out of her normal life by powers beyond her control and forced into a role she never expected to have—and transforms into a determined, cynical, hard-as-nails fighter who willingly sacrifices her own humanity in order to keep the human race safe, though she will never reap the benefits personally.
Lena Headey as the new Sarah Connor.
I just finished catching up with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a Fox series that just wrapped up its first season and has somehow avoided cancellation on the Network That Kills Anything Remotely Good. Moving Sarah Connor to the small screen is a bit of a challenge, partially because there’s no way you can recreate the blockbuster-sized explosions and action sequences of the movies, nor can you rely on Arnold Schwarzenegger to take time off from his governor’s duties to utter his deadpan cyborg lines. Neither does Linda Hamilton does not return in the role of Sarah Connor, instead leaving those duties to a very capable Lena Headey. Thomas Dekker takes on the role of future human resistance leader John Connor, and Firefly‘s Summer Glau inherits Arnie’s task as a friendly Terminator sent from the future to protect John.
The nine-episode first season starts fairly slowly, setting up its pieces deliberately but failing to bring much in the way of writerly polish; you have to wait until about the halfway mark of the season before things pick up dramatically. But even in the first few episodes it’s clear that the producers of The Sarah Connor Chronicles intend to flesh out the mythology of the Terminator franchise. And once the show’s set up the plot properly, it’s a lot of fun to watch how it all goes down. Old-school Terminator fans may balk at the new Sarah Connor, but after a while you get used to Lena Headey’s portrayal; her Sarah Connor is still determined, still cynical, and still a reluctant hero, while in some ways seeming more personable than in the movies.
Having just finished its first run on Fox, it’ll be a while before DVD sets show up, but if you’re in the mood for some decent sci-fi drama, keep an eye out.